Just because I videoed my son jumping off the roof onto the trampoline before I made him stop does not make me a total free-range parent. My kids are gymnasts, dancers and daredevils… kinda like their mom. Wanna snowboard down the black diamond hill? Sure, let’s do it. Wanna hike to the steepest point on every mountain we encounter? Sure, let’s do it. Wanna hop on our bikes and just ride and ride to wherever we end up? Sure, let’s do it. Wanna train for a half marathon at 13? Sure, let’s do it. Wanna do a handstand or walk on your hands everywhere in Los Angeles (and every single city we visit)? Sure, but let me take your picture and put it on Instagram.
Wanna talk back to an adult, roll your eyes or call someone names? Oh, noooooo way child… you will get grounded for that. Wanna “forget” to do the dishes before you bop off to the mall with your friend? Your sleepover will get taken away for that. Wanna go outside and play while your mom is at work and you were supposed to stay inside? Planned movie afternoon, canceled. Wanna Uber all over Los Angeles, alone, like your other 13-year-old friends? Oh, heck no. I will drive you, thank you very much, or… you can skip an outing or two with your pack of friends. You will survive. Trust me.
I don’t subscribe to any one parenting philosophy. But the one I lean on most is the “Love and Logic” parenting method. Children learn to be responsible, productive members of society through natural consequences. You want to wear your fleece, footed pajamas under your clothes to school? Sure, why not. You may get made fun of, you may get hot, but, sister, if that is how you feel the need to dress, go right ahead. You are not putting yourself or anyone else in danger… so, go for it. For the record, no one made fun of her… but she said she was hot and she never dressed like that again. My children have chosen their own clothing since they were able to dress themselves, which was around two years old. Since I’m the one buying the clothing, there is nothing questionable about what they might wear. My son went through a phase of wearing his Superman cape everywhere he went, including a cross-country road trip and a pit stop to the Grand Canyon.
My son also has always had a penchant for adventure. I should have known I was in trouble when he was two years old, and we went to the airport to pick up my mom who was coming for a visit. We were early, so we went to the top deck of the parking lot and my kids and I watched the planes come in and land. As we were looking over the edge of the parking structure, my son said, “Mommy, I can spread my wings and fly from here?”. Well, that was my cue to get back in the car, drive to a lower level and go greet my mom at baggage claim with all three of my children safely intact, two of them strapped in the stroller and one strapped to my body.
When my son was four years old, he got his first bicycle with training wheels. He refused to get on it until I took off the training wheels. So, a wrench was located, training wheels were removed, bike (and all three children) were loaded in the car and taken to the park. Everything unloaded, the bike riding lesson began. We got to the grassy area, he hopped on the bike, I held on for about five feet, gave a push and away he went… riding a bike like it was nothing. Well, he had no problems riding, but he didn’t know how to stop. So, he steered himself right into a tree that was newly planted and only about 2 inches in diameter. Most others would miss that tree, but not him…he found a safe way to stop himself without damaging himself, the bike, or the tree. Next step was to teach him how to use the brakes.
Ever since he was really little, he would climb things. Like the 20-foot pole at the park that housed the swings. He would climb up there and perch like a bird. Then he’d climb back down. He would cause such a scene at the park…the other parents who didn’t know me or my son all thought I was a horrible parent. I knew he was fine. I knew that he knew his physical limitations and abilities. The first time he went to sleep-away camp when he was entering second grade, I wrote on the application “If you ever can’t find him, look up”.
One day, I was at another park with all three of my children and their chosen activity was to climb to the top of the rock wall and then jump off into the sand pit below. There were other kids doing this as well, not just my kids. Then a boy jumped off, fell and hurt his elbow. The moms from the other group caused a huge scene over this boy’s injury and made everyone get off the rock wall. The boy cried for a little bit, but ended up being fine. Well, the moms proceeded to stand watch right at the rock wall and wouldn’t let anyone jump off because that boy had hurt himself. They were stopping my kids from jumping. They did not know me or my children. So… I had to haul myself over there and have a little chat with them. Well, I didn’t actually chat or engage particularly, I just said: “I appreciate your concern, but my kids are good to jump.”And with that, they shot me daggers and may have contemplated calling child services on me.
While I do seem to fall into the free-range parenting category, I have lots of boundaries and rules for my children. One time we went to the beach when they were two, four, and six years old. As you can imagine, a small U-haul would have been helpful in getting all of our plunder to the beach. As I was unloading the car and trying to get everything to our chosen spot for the day, I told the four-year-old and the six-year-old that they could not touch the water until I was with them. The two-year-old was right next to me as I arranged the blankets, put the food down, dumped the sand toys, etc. As soon as I was finished, I looked up and what did I see? My two little angels frolicking in the water. So, I calmly re-packed the sand toys, picked up the food, folded the blankets and got them loaded back in the bag. I loaded everything up, marched down to the surf and told my little swimmers that it was time to go in that tone of voice that they knew meant business… they looked at me like they wanted to talk, but were smart enough not to protest… they followed along like little ducks. We packed up the car and went home. They never did that again.
I want my kids to fly. I want them to be free. I want them to be safe, respectful, and kind. I want them to offer this to those around them. I’ve always been a free spirit and I have seen how much damage and pain can be suffered by not letting kids be the people they were meant to be. I have also seen the destruction and damage that has been done when children aren’t given any boundaries or consequences, natural or otherwise. Raising children is a delicate balance, but it can be done and it can be done well. And if today you are faced with challenges that you didn’t confront very well, tomorrow is a new day! I was blessed with a mom who always encouraged me to spread my wings and fly, and I want my children to soar…I just don’t want them to jump off the roof today!
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